November 25th , 2013 11:08 am Leave a comment

UN: Syria peace talks to take place Jan. 22

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GENEVA (AP) — Syria’s government and opposition will hold their first peace talks on Jan. 22 in Geneva, in an attempt to halt the nearly 3-year-old civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people, the United Nations announced Monday.

Previous attempts to bring the two sides together have failed mainly because of disputes over who should represent the Syrian opposition and government, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s future role, and whether Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers should be at the table.

The U.N. statement did not specify who will be representing Syria’s opposition at the talks, but Britain’s foreign secretary said the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, will participate. The group, who were not immediately available for comment, has limited control over the myriad rebel groups fighting Assad’s forces.

“The Geneva conference is the vehicle for a peaceful transition that fulfills the legitimate aspirations of all the Syrian people for freedom and dignity, and which guarantees safety and protection to all communities in Syria,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office said in a statement.

One key goals, the statement said, would be the “the establishment, based on mutual consent, of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, including over military and security entities.”

“The Secretary-General expects that the Syrian representatives will come to Geneva with a clear understanding that this is the objective, and with a serious intention to end a war that has already left well over 100,000 dead, driven almost 9 million from their homes, left countless missing and detained, sent tremors through the region and forced unacceptable burdens on Syria’s neighbors,” the statement said.

That goal is based on the roadmap for a Syrian political transition, adopted by the U.S., Russia and other major powers at a conference on Syria in June 2012 in Geneva, in which the warring sides were not invited. The roadmap envisaged the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers agreed to by both sides, and ends with elections, but there has been no agreement on how to implement it. One of the biggest sticking points has been the future role of President Bashar Assad.

Earlier this month, the Syrian National coalition, agreed to attend peace talks if a number of conditions were met, including humanitarian corridors to give relief agencies access to besieged areas and the release of detainees, particularly women. But the group stressed that Assad would have no role in the transitional period. The coalition dropped an earlier demand that Assad step down ahead of peace talks.

Syrian government officials have insisted Assad would not step down and may even run for another term in presidential elections scheduled for mid-2014.

Recent battlefield victories have shifted the momentum of Syria’s conflict in Assad’s favor. Russia has been the key sponsor and ally of Assad’s government, blocking U.N. Security Council resolutions that would slap it with sanctions, and continuing to provide it with weapons.

Last week, the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee demanded that Syria’s government immediately allow humanitarian aid to reach all areas of the country and stop hampering distribution with “bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on Syrian government “to take immediate steps to alleviate humanitarian suffering across the country, and stop their brutal tactics which include besieging and attacking civilian areas.”

“In the coming weeks they need to demonstrate that they will go to the Geneva II talks prepared to negotiate a political transition and end the violence” Hague, whose government, alongside other major Western powers, including the U.S., has backed the main Syrian opposition group, said in a statement.

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